The west coast Italian region of the Cinque Terre (pronounced Chink-way Tare-ay) may translate into English as the Five Lands, but I’d argue it also means Heaven On Earth, or What Daydreams Are Made Of. In late May of last year, Tim and I spent three nights and just over two days in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Cinque Terre, but because our time there had such a huge impression on me and I seem to remember every moment from those days it felt like much longer! Yet not nearly long enough all at the same time, since I could happily spend the rest of my life there.
In fact, I debated whether or not to write about this slice of Italy at all — it feels like a best-kept secret that shouldn’t be exposed. Only an average amount of info can be found on Google, and the best advice for the area comes from word of mouth. This can be a bit intimidating if you’re like me and prefer to have as much knowledge about a place as possible before visiting, but trust me… The secretive air around the Cinque Terre is part of what makes it so magical, and what will hopefully keep it Italy’s best-kept, not-so-secret secret.
We stayed in the southernmost town of Riomaggiore, and I can’t recommend basing yourself in this town when visiting the Cinque Terre strongly enough. Some other towns were, in my opinion, either too touristy or too sleepy to actually stay in; Riomaggiore was the perfect mix. The towns spanning the Cinque Terre (north to south) are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, and after having visited four of these (we missed out on Corniglia) I can comfortably say Riomaggiore is the ideal blend of undiscovered, small fishing village and just-developed-enough tourist hotspot. The simple addition of these features means Riomaggiore equals out to the perfect base — you feel like you have the nightly sunset view from the town’s coastal rocks all to yourself, while still being able to have your pick of which restaurant to eat at (our take out from) for dinner. Magnifico.
La Spezia is the closest city to the Cinque Terre and this is where we took a train to from Switzerland (with many transfers and train cancellations in between). From La Spezia station it’s easy peasy — once you reach 6 p.m. and all the train strikes are required, by law, to have ended — to hop on a train to the Cinque Terre; after only about 15 minutes we found ourselves at the first stop, Riomaggiore. Once at our base town, we found it to be incredibly simple to hop around from town to town in the region. By buying a daily train pass for the Cinque Terre — which costs roughly €15 per person and was readily available from the little travel office near Riomaggiore’s train station — it was easy to get around at our own pace. Just remember to stamp your ticket before getting on a train since tickets are regularly checked onboard! Additionally, each town has its own train stop with obvious directions to its centre from the train station. Things are really friendly for first-time visitors.
We spent our time lounging between towns and taking in all the sights and sounds of the idyllic coast. Sprinkled along the shore, each fifth of the Cinque Terre offers something unique — be it the never-ending beach umbrellas framing Monetrosso or the cliffside stroll jutting out from Manarola. Everything over these few days was pretty perfect, especially in Riomaggiore — sorry to sound like a broken record. From our “hotel” (Mar Mar), to where we ate dinner two out of the three nights (La Lampara — ask for take-out!), to the little store we picked up snacks from each morning (Alimentari Franca — right near the tunnel). Take me BACK.
Highlights over these few days were abundant for Tim and me. Admiring the sunset from Riomaggiore with peach gelato in hand on our first night will forever be one of the favourite memories (especially since the travel day we’d just experienced was straight out of a nightmare). Spending an afternoon under an orange beach umbrella in Monterosso with the option of ordering a bucket of mojitos (?!) was the most relaxed we’d been our whole trip. Hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza alongside the trail’s tropical flowers and farm-inhabited hillsides felt like we’d been transported to some sort of Eden. Plus, there’s so much I’d love to do if I ever went back, like hike between all five towns, wander more west into Riomaggiore’s centre and go swim off the rocks in any of the towns! I could go on and on… Point is, our time here was so perfect I struggle to wonder how anywhere else on Earth could compare to what the Cinque Terre has to offer!